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State of Texas case against Tiguas for alleged gaming violations postponed

By: Genevieve Curtis
EL PASO, Texas - There is a lot at stake for the Tiguas if the State of Texas can win its case against them.

The state aims to prove the tribe is violating state gaming laws by continuing to operate a casino at Speaking Rock and the Socorro Entertainment Center, despite the fact that the state shut down the casino in 2001.

The state, represented by the Attorney General's Office, wants the tribe to pay more than $750,000 in fines plus $58,000 for undercover operations. They also want the Tribe to remove all electronic gaming equipment.

However, the Tigua's attorney argues the electronic gaming or "sweepstakes" available at the entertainment centers don't violate any laws.

"The court has ordered that the tribe can offer third party giveaways operated by national vendors and that's what we are doing and that's why the vendors were here today," said Randolph Barnhouse, attorney for the Tiguas.

The state names four vendors as parties to the lawsuit. In court Tuesday, two said they have filed for a dismissal and the other two said they intend to do the same.

Barnhouse argued that because of the Restoration Act which in part, categorizes the Tiguas as a sovereign nation, the tribe does not have to comply with Texas gaming laws, only federal ones.

"We in compliance with that federal law because the Ysleta Del Sur pueblo is an Indian tribe, it has the sovereignty of an Indian tribe. It's controlled by federal law," said Barnhouse.

A bulk of the state's evidence comes from several undercover operations where they said both venues have the characteristics of a casino. That included cash-out kiosks, roving drinks services and hundreds of machines.

Tuesday, Barnhouse told U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone, the undercover investigations should be thrown out because the state did not have jurisdiction to conduct them in the first place.

William Dean who represented the Attorney General's Office said the centers are open to the public and the State of Texas, having a greater right than the general public, is entitled to greater access.

Dean cited the opinion of the Fifth Circuit court of appeals who in 2011 denied the Tiguas' efforts to prevent the state from looking at its financial gaming records.

Dean also told the court on the state's only "official" visit both of the entertainment centers were shut down.

Attorneys for the vendors and Tiguas argued the machines were on; they just had closed down the venues to the public in order to allow the state to do its investigation.

With so many players involved and pieces to work out, to likely include what will and will not be admissible, a final hearing was moved to October.

Until then, Barnhouse said it will be business as usual for the Tiguas.

"We will continue to operate within strict compliance of the law- That's what we've been doing and we'll continue to do that so we can show the judge that in October," said Barnhouse.